Minshew, Colts bolster playoff chances with win over fading Steelers
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Gardner Minshew got the most out of his depleted supporting cast.
The Colts' quarterback, himself a backup, made big plays with backup receivers. He got Indianapolis' reserve running backs into play calls that would succeed. It was some of Minshew's finest work of the season — perhaps of his entire career.
Minshew matched his career high with three touchdown passes, Indianapolis rushed for 170 yards and the Colts improved their playoff prospects with a 30-13 win over the sagging Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday.
“We’ve needed to win these games and we’ve done a great job down the stretch,” Minshew said. “I think everybody was locked in, the urgency was there, the attention to details. At this point it’s all about winning games, however, you’ve got to get it done.”
Minshew and the Colts (8-6) have won five of six to move from the bottom of the AFC South into playoff contention. They currently hold the No. 7 position in the AFC, and they will remain there when this weekend's games conclude because of tiebreakers.
They wouldn't be in that spot without Minshew, who replaced injured rookie Anthony Richardson in Week 5. On Saturday, Minshew went 18 of 28 with 215 yards despite losing top receiver Michael Pittman Jr. to a concussion and top rusher Zack Moss to an injured right arm. Jonathan Taylor (right thumb), the 2021 NFL rushing champ, didn't play, either.
The Steelers (7-7) dropped their third straight and fell into last place in the rugged AFC North, putting coach Mike Tomlin's run of 16 straight seasons at .500 or better in jeopardy.
Pittsburgh took an early 13-0 lead behind backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who made his second start in place of the injured Kenny Pickett. But by late in the fourth quarter, the Colts had scored 30 consecutive points and third-stringer Mason Rudolph was slinging passes for the Steelers.
“Let’s be honest, we’re a fundamentally poor football team right now,” Tomlin said. “We’re playing losing football and I own that. I don’t necessarily have the answers today. If I did, we’d have played differently today. But I will acknowledge things will not continue the way that they are.”
Trubisky was 16 of 23 for 169 yards with one TD pass and two interceptions. Pittsburgh rushed for 74 yards and finished with 216 total yards.
The Steelers got off to a promising start when a replay review changed a fumble by Trubisky into a 1-yard TD run. Chris Boswell missed the extra-point attempt. Six plays later, Pittsburgh capitalized on a blocked punt when Trubisky threw a 4-yard TD pass to Diontae Johnson early in the second quarter.
But Indy's defense stiffened from there, and the Colts took control when Minshew and Moss hooked up on a 16-yard TD pass and D.J. Montgomery caught a 14-yard TD pass with 22 seconds left in the first half for a 14-13 lead. Montgomery was promoted from the practice squad this week.
“He's just worked his tail off on the scout team all year, he's just made play after play,” Colts coach Shane Steichen said. “It's like, we've got to get this guy up on the active roster.”
Pittsburgh's downward spiral continued when Najee Harris fumbled on the first Steelers play of the second half. On the next snap, Minshew threw an 18-yard scoring pass to Mo Alie-Cox to make it 21-13. The Colts sealed the win with three field goals by Matt Gay.
Trey Sermon ran 17 times for 88 yards to lead the Colts after logging only 11 runs this season.
“I think any time you lose really good players like that, nobody's going to just step in and replace them,” Minshew said. “I think everybody has to kind of pick up their level of play and I think we got that from a lot of different areas today.”
Lucas Oil Stadium fell silent when Steelers safety Damontae Kazee launched his shoulder into Pittman as the receiver tried to make a diving catch. The Colts later said Pittman had a concussion. Kazee was ejected for the hit, which also drew a penalty.
Colts players immediately rushed to see if Pittman was OK and some players from both teams took a knee as trainers worked on Pittman. Fans covered their eyes and had concerned looks before Pittman got up and walked off the field.
Steelers: S Minkah Fitzpatrick did not return after hurting his left knee in the second quarter.
Colts: Moss did not return after getting hurt on his scoring play. He broke the same arm during the preseason. DT Eric Johnson II left in the second half with what appeared to be a lower-body injury.
BY THE NUMBERS
Steelers: Lost for the first time at Lucas Oil Stadium as their eight-game winning streak in the series ended. ... Johnson led the Steelers with four catches for 67 yards. George Pickens caught three balls for 47 yards.
Colts: Tyler Goodson had 11 carries for 69 yards. Indy had 14 consecutive rushes during one second-half series. ... The Colts had three sacks, giving them 45 this season — two short of a new single-season franchise record.
Steelers: Host division rival Cincinnati next Saturday.
Colts: At Atlanta on Sunday, Dec. 24.
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